Man gets 7½ years in Uganda-based counterfeiting scheme

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A judge on Thursday sentenced a Pittsburgh man to 7½ years in federal prison for his role in a counterfeit money scheme based in Uganda and several other scams.

U.S. District Judge Terrence McVerry indicated in court filings before Thursday's sentencing that 29-year-old Joseph Graziano Jr. likely faced at least 11 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. But McVerry cut that by 3½ year after granting an unspecified government request.

Prosecutors and defense attorney Martin Dietz wouldn't comment on the request.

"Mr. Graziano accepts full responsibility and regrets his actions and looks forward to being a productive member of society upon his release," Dietz said.

Court documents show Graziano was a bit player in the counterfeiting scheme allegedly masterminded by Ryan Gustafson, 27, who has been jailed in Uganda since his arrest there in December.

Gustafson is charged with making more than $1.5 million in high-quality U.S. $20, $50 and $100 bills in Uganda, most of which was passed in that country. But he's also accused of shipping about $270,000 to the United States to people like Graziano, who bought the fake notes for a fraction of their face value through encrypted Internet forums.

Graziano pleaded guilty to sending Gustafson $1,500 in real currency in exchange for $4,000 worth of fake bills, which were shipped to Pittsburgh.

The money was glued inside pamphlets purporting to be from a charity that helps poor African children. Customers like Graziano were instructed to soak the pamphlets in hot water to dissolve glue and free the money.

Graziano was free on bond in four other cases when he received the bogus money from Uganda, which prompted federal authorities to revoke his bond and arrest him last year. It was Graziano who, in turn, passed the $100 at a Pittsburgh coffee shop in December 2013, which led to the investigation of Gustafson, according to court documents.

Graziano, a former trust administrator with Bank of New York Mellon, also was sentenced for stealing more than $2.4 million from customer accounts and, in a separate scam, offering computers on eBay but mailing customers empty packages. He would tell customers who complained that unscrupulous postal inspectors had stolen the computers.

Graziano, who apologized for his crimes and blamed them on a gambling addiction, also had defrauded banks by submitting bogus loan applications and then filing false tax returns to hide his illegal income from the IRS.

He was ordered to repay his various victims about $4 million as part of his sentence.

Dietz said his client "can have a very successful and productive future" if he uses his considerable intelligence and financial skills legally once he gets out of prison.